Fans of PC gaming will forever claim that their platform is by far superior to any console out there. Be it the graphics, the free online play, the ability to customize and modify games as needed or any other reason, the PC as a gaming console has a loyal following that stubbornly refuses to even consider that a 360 or PS3 could be anywhere near as great for gaming as a PC is. (Don’t even think about bringing up the Wii!) More than one of those loyal fans will point out the convenience of user-made patches that fix all the glitches the official ones missed, as a great advantage as well.
Those who prefer consoles will point to invasive DRM and how easy it is to game on a console compared to a PC, where all you have to do is insert the disk and hit “play”. Granted, that has never been the case with the PC… if anything, it has become easier now than it used to be. Nor do consoles have the hassle of different operating systems that the PC has. Try playing Knights of the Old Republic on Windows 7, for example… it’s not pretty.
I’m not going to try and pretend that the inconveniences and difficulties don’t exist, or try to justify any of them. I do however think that how much of an inconvenience they are depends a lot on what your expectations are, and whether you are used to them or not. A console gamer trying out their first ever PC game is going to be a lot more frustrated than someone who has been gaming exclusively on PCs since the “good old days” of DOS, when games required you to reboot from a dedicated floppy in order to run them.
There are ways to minimize the hassle though. Little things to do and be aware of that can make PC gaming, especially the process of installing and updating the game, a lot smoother and hopefully more enjoyable.
Keep your entire computer up to date
This doesn’t just refer to your operating system. Update your security software, and above all, make it a habit of updating your drivers to the latest version. New versions of graphics drivers are released because new things need to be added and old things fixed, such as better SLI support for racing games, a fix for that annoying invisible wall bug in a specific game, and so on. A surprisingly large number of graphics problems in new games can be traced back to simply playing on an old video driver. Update it.
Learn how to read System Requirements
PC game developers do their part by telling you the hardware requirements for the game. It’s printed right there on the box. Learn what’s in your computer and what the hardware can do, and how it compares to what else is out there. Is your 3.0GHz dual-core CPU more or less powerful than a 2.5GHz quad-core, for example? How does your 8800 GTS compare to an HD5730?
In addition to just knowing what your hardware can do, you also need to understand what the developers mean with “minimum requirements” and “recommended”. You are going to save yourself a lot of disappointment and frustration once you learn to assume that “minimum requirements” means “the game will start up and run on the most minimum and basic settings imaginable, and framerates will become choppy in intense graphics sequences, so it will play but really poorly”. If your computer barely meets the minimum hardware requirements for a game, it won’t run it. Don’t even bother.
Personally, I never look at the minimum hardware requirements on a PC game. I look for the “recommended” ones and if my PC meets them, or sits just below, then I know it can run it.
Stop obsessing over graphics
If you’re the type of gamer who can’t imagine being without every single visual effect the game offers, if you have to have full AA, moving soft shadows during combat, every single weather effect on max, and be able to see every single detail on textures and in the distance, then you should probably give up on PC gaming. The by far easiest way to eliminate lag and choppiness is to tone down some of the most demanding graphics settings. If that bothers you to the point that you enjoy the game less, you either need to take a long good look at what makes a game “good” to you, or you should move to consoles. (I’d suggest the PS3. :p)
Get in the habit of researching DRM
Moral/ethical sides of DRM aside, there are practical consequences as well. Common DRM systems include limiting the number of times you can reinstall the game, or verifying the authenticity of your copy by maintaining a connection to a server hosted by the game developer. In the latter case, you will need to have an open and stable internet connection in order to play the game, even if the entire campaign is a single-player experience that takes place locally on your computer. As far as the number of installations, that may not be an issue for you if you are the only PC gamer in your household. How often do you really need to reinstall a game, unless you’re doing a reinstall of your OS? If however there are several of you, each with his or her own gaming system, then being limited to installing the game three times only, could very well become a real problem.
In the end, whether the DRM used by the game you want to buy will become too much of an inconvenience is up to you to decide. The important point is, you can save yourself a lot of problems and unpleasant surprises just by reading up on the DRM before buying a game.
Learn how your security software works and how to configure it
If you’re playing an MMO of any kind, if you want to do online multi-player in an FPS or RTS, or if your game uses the online verification method of DRM, your firewall or your anti-virus applications can become big problems.
For example, there is a certain type of computer virus that sends a small innocuous little file to install on your computer. That little file will then “phone home”, and start to download files of various size that it installs, and this is where the real damage begins. Sound familiar? Contacting a server, downloading and installing a file, is exactly what the automatic updater to most of your games do, and that is why for example Avast Antivirus will flag the update utility for The Witcher as a backdoor trojan and strongly recommend you to quarantine it
If you have a software firewall that is even remotely competent, it will stop anything that has been altered since the last time it needed to go through, and ask you what the heck is going on. Effectively, your recently patched MMO will no longer be able to connect.
Learn how to configure your firewall to allow your games to go through unmolested, without compromising the security of the rest of your system. Learn what a “false positive” from your antivirus is and how to spot them.
Since a lot of antivirus programs protect your registry from unauthorized changes, and extend the same courtesy to your system files, you can save yourself a lot of possible problems by simply unplugging your internet connection, and turn off your antivirus and firewall before installing your new game. Note that if your game uses the “online verification”-type of DRM, that might not work so well though…
Is that it? Will it be super-easy and problem free to install PC games now?
No, of course not, silly. Computers are way more complex and varied than consoles, and since they are used for so many other things than gaming it’s impossible to simplify it to where you put in the disk, press a button, and everything works perfectly right away. But it will make it easier for you, if you keep these things in mind.
Now go install your new game and play. What are you still here for? Go! Go! :P